NFU voices concerns with petition for organic checkoff
WASHINGTON – On May 13, National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson voiced concerns over a recent petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to begin the process of setting up a checkoff program for the organic industry under the 1996 Generic Act, citing issues with the proposed amount of money appropriated to agricultural research, composition of the board, and administrative cap.
“The 1996 Generic Act was created to benefit small producers who lack the resources to market their products individually,” said Johnson. “NFU believes the petition does not adequately represent producers on the board, does not appropriate enough money to agricultural research, and provides for too high of an administrative cap.”
Johnson pointed out that the proposed composition of the organic checkoff board allows for a processor majority, a disproportionate representation of the organic industry.
“The proposed board would have considerable oversight of the checkoff dollars, including 25 percent for discretionary purposes,” said Johnson. “Producers should have a majority of the board seats since they are clearly a majority of all certificate holders.”
Johnson noted that the petition lacks a necessary focus on agricultural research, allocating only 25 percent of funds to this purpose. “Commodity research and promotion programs are and always have been intended to support the efforts of producers of agricultural commodities,” he said. “An organic checkoff must fill the gap in agricultural research and prioritize addressing the production research needs of the industry.”
Johnson also noted the petition allows for a significant portion of the checkoff assessments to be used for administrative purposes. While the 1996 Generic Act allows for a cap of up to 15 percent, this is the statutory maximum.
“An administrative cap of 15 percent is too high, which, based on analysis of the checkoff, could be $6 million,” said Johnson. “It would best serve the organic industry to lower the cap to 5 percent.
“This is the first step towards an organic checkoff, and NFU looks forward to working with USDA and stakeholders to ensure the checkoff adequately addresses the needs of organic family farmers and ranchers. NFU will work throughout this lengthy process to make sure the checkoff works for NFU members according to policy enacted by delegates to its convention.”